Fans of Austin rejoice one again: The Pursuit of Mary Bennett, on store shelves in December, is a glorious re-imagining of Austin’s most puzzling character, the socially inept Mary Bennett, and her romantic exploits after the departure of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. While there were but few paragraphs about Mary in the original Pride and Prejudice, Ms. Mingle masterfully depicts Mary’s transition into adulthood in this beautifully crafted tale. If you, or someone you know, is a fan of the Bennett sisters, be sure to purchase this guaranteed bestseller, which is sure to instantly transport you into an Edwardian-era fever just in time for the holidays. Bonus: December marks the 200th anniversary of the original Pride and Prejudice - could this have been timed any better?
Nikki Tiani: How did the idea of pursuing Mary's backstory come to you? Have you been a lifelong P&P/Austin fan?
Pamela Mingle: I had read and enjoyed some of the Austen-inspired sequels, most of which are about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. After I joined JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America, for the uninitiated) I knew I wanted to try writing a sequel, but my personal belief is that the Elizabeth—Darcy relationship is sacred! No way would I attempt to re-envision that. Mary’s place and purpose in the story has always fascinated me. I thought I could work with her as a main character and see where she would take me. She only appears in the book in about a dozen and a half scenes, and in some of those she’s not actually part of the action, but only mentioned. I could imagine a new kind of life for her. I came to Austen late in life, compared to those who read her in middle school! I was in my thirties, on a beach vacation, when I picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice to take with me. It was love at first read!
NT: Be honest: did Mary have the hots for Mr. Darcy?
PM: Ha, ha! No, I don’t think so. She was much too intimidated by him.
NT: If Mary were alive today, what career would she be pursuing?
PM: A reference librarian, or maybe an English professor. Possibly an advice columnist! I see her as a working mom.
NT: When this book is undoubtedly picked up by Hollywood, which actress will play our heroine?
PM: Mary has always been Carey Mulligan to me, which is kind of weird, since Mulligan played Kitty in Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
NT: Moving on to you! When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? How did you choose the genre you write in? Where do you get your ideas?
PM: I started writing around 2001 and finished my first book in 2003. But I didn’t sell a book until my fourth one, Kissing Shakespeare, in 2010. Originally, I wrote for middle grade, then decided I was more suited to a teen audience because I like to write romance. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is my first book for adults. So it follows that I enjoy writing in a variety of genres, and for different types of readers! Ideas come from everywhere. I’ve been inspired most by settings and by reading biographies and histories of various periods. I like to imagine how personal stories play out against big, historic events.
NT: Do you have a day job as well?
PM: Not anymore! I retired in 2001 after many years as a reference librarian and then a fourth and fifth grade teacher. So I now have the luxury of writing full time.
NT: Do you ever experience writer's block?
PM: Not really. I have days that are more difficult than others. The words seem to stall out in my brain somewhere. But it’s always seemed to me that “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” is the cure for that.
NT: Do you work with an outline, or just write?
PM: I write the first several chapters, possibly as many as four or five. Then I go back and outline what I’ve already written and continue outlining through several more chapters. Often I jump ahead of my outline, then go back and fill in. You might ask why I bother with the outline after I’ve already done the writing. It’s unusual, I know, but I like having a detailed summary of the story. It’s helpful in revising and in writing a synopsis.
NT: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
PM: Books that strike an emotional chord, such as Pride and Prejudice, or The Grapes of Wrath, stay with me. Recently, I read Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. I found it very moving and have not been able to get it out of my mind.
NT: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
PM: After three books and no book sale, I was discouraged. But with each book, I became a better writer. Patience is required to be in this business! Rejection can be demoralizing. Getting back to work was always the key for me, as well as striving to improve, to make my writing stronger and deeper. Having a writing community really helps during the tough times.
NT: If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
PM: In the bigger scheme of things, no! I’ve learned from my mistakes, and there’s a satisfaction in figuring it all out. I’ve made wonderful new friends who’ve traveled down this road with me. We support each other. That’s irreplaceable.
NT: How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
PM: Having a presence on social media is a given these days. Readers who love your book will be disappointed if they can’t find your blog or your Facebook page, and can’t locate you on Twitter or Goodreads. There’s no substitute for having a an editor and marketing team who are really behind your book, and the people at William Morrow have been extraordinary in this regard. It’s no secret, though, that continuing to produce books is the single best marketing tool an author has.